Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Easter Sunday Attack on Tuesday (13) that he would have taken steps to prevent the Easter Sunday attack on 21 April 2019 if he had been given the intelligence information at least the day before.
“If the information about the attack had been received on April 20, since there was no President and no Secretary of Defense who could have acted on his behalf in the country, using my authority as the Prime Minister, I would have contacted the President, the Inspector General of Police, the Armed Forces, the Intelligence Service, the Indian High Commission, All Intelligence Services, the Fire Brigade and the Health Authority, convened the cabinet and taken all the necessary measures to prevent the attack,” Wickremesinghe said.
Testifying before the Commission for a second day, former Premier acknowledged that there was a clear breakdown in the country’s security apparatus at the time of the Easter Sunday terror attack.
“The Secretary of Defense did not come to the meeting I called after the attack. So I joined the delegation and went to the Ministry of Defense. Even then Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando had gathered the media and was giving statements. I sent the media out and had a discussion right there. I spoke to the President and imposed the curfew and took the necessary action.”
“Since the President had said that he was coming to the country on that day, I informed the security forces to look into his security,” Wickremesinghe added.
Mr. Wickramasinghe testified under the direction of the Additional Solicitor General of the Attorney General’s Department.
Commission: Did you find out why the Defense Secretary did not come to the discussion you convened at Temple Trees after the attack?
Witness: As soon as I came to know about the incident, I sent Ruwan to the Ministry. He told me that these people would not come to the discussion and that the President had told them not to go.
Commission: Why did the President say that?
Witness: I did not look into it. It was not the time to look for that. Suddenly we had a lot of things to do. So they were not important to me at that time.
Commission: After October 2018, you were not summoned to the Security Council until the Easter Sunday attack, right?
Witness: Yes. I did not receive a call.
Commission: Were there any differences of opinion between your party and the party of the former President?
Witness: Not a clash of opinions. For some reason one was on top of the other. Some agreed with some, some opposed. That is a situation that can exist in any government.
Commission: Did you attend all the Security Council meetings?
Witness: I was involved whenever I could. There was no set date for this. The date and time will be announced 24 hours or 48 hours in advance. As a result, you may not be able to attend the meeting since you are unable to stop the work you are doing.
Commission: Do you think this meeting should be held weekly?
Witness: It is essential to hold it once a week during the war. But then it is important to call at least once every two weeks. When I spoke to the President about this, he said that he would talk to me whenever there was a need based on the intelligence reports.
Commission: Did you know that extremist ideologies are spreading in our country?
Witness: Yes. In fact, although there is Buddhist extremism and other extremism in Sri Lanka, Islamic extremism is different from them. They also acted against the traditional Muslims of Islam. Such a thing is not found in other religions.
Commission: Did you know that this extremism was most active in East Kattankudy?
Witness: Yes. In fact, it spread from Kattankudy to Kalmunai.
Commission: Did you not see it as a threat to the peaceful existence of the country?
Witness: Yes. Traditional Muslims have lived in harmony with us ever since. Therefore, it is our responsibility to protect them.
Commission: Saharan was issued a warrant for his arrest in January 2017 after a clash between two Islamist groups at Aliyar Junction. Why was he not arrested until this attack?
Witness: As soon as I became aware of the spread of IS ideology in foreign countries, I instructed them to appoint a separate police team to look into them. Such a unit has been established in the Terrorism Investigation Division. But with intelligence received that Saharan had fled to India I think his arrest was prevented. It was only after the attack that we came to know that he was in Sri Lanka.
Commission: You attended security meetings. There he was informed of Saharan’s whereabouts by the information of the Chief of State Intelligence.
Witness: According to these reports it is clear. But I did not know. Neither I nor the Minister of Law and Order has been informed about it.
Commission: There is evidence in this Commission that these reports have also been given to him. Some testified at the commission that extremists were discussed in the Security Council, but the relevant authorities did not pay much attention to them.
Witness: I also talked about extremism. We talked about bringing in the Anti-Terrorism Act saying that our existing Prevention of Terrorism Act is not enough to take certain measures to prevent extremism. It was drafted. However, this was not possible due to the overthrow of the government.
Commission: Are you not being informed about the reports received by the Minister of Law and Order?
Commission: After the introduction of the open economy, people started wearing clothes like the Niqab in Arabia, didn’t they?
Witness: Not because of the open economy. It was around the end of the eighties and nineties that this dress started to be worn in our country. Especially after the women of our country started going to domestic service in Middle Eastern countries.
Commission: The former President stated in this Commission that you opposed the banning of the Niqab at the Security Council.
Witness: Yes, I objected. Because that is not the answer to extremism. This is not what extremists wear. After the banning of the Niqab, extremists could have spread misconceptions among our traditional Muslim community and eliminated them. It was these Muslims who provided information to the security forces during the war in our country. That was the situation until recently.
Commission: But they did not give us that information until Saharan attacked.
Witness: We can’t say that. Although we did not receive it, they often provided information to the security forces about what the Saharans were doing. It is the responsibility of the security forces to go beyond that and investigate further.
Commission: Our intelligence services have not been able to confirm the existence of foreign intelligence information that there may be an attack from Saharan.
Witness: Yes, it is our weakness.
Commission: Did you know that Arab countries are pouring large sums of money into starting Arabic schools in our country to teach Wahhabism?
Witness: Money has been flowing from Arab countries for a long time. Most of the money was received to start mosques. Funds were received from Saudi Arabia to start the Batticaloa Campus.
Commission: Aren’t those countries also sending money to the Undial system? Isn’t it a problem that black money comes in this way?
Witness: Yes. And yet the money is coming. The Batticaloa campus was legally funded. We tried to bring in the Anti-Terrorism Act to control matters including sending money to the country in the form of black money.
Commission: Many countries in the world have banned IS in their countries. But why not in our country?
Witness: Although it is known that there are people in our country who are inclined towards such ideology, it was not reported that there is an organization.
Commission: I say that you opposed the proposals made by the then Director of Army Intelligence, Suresh Saleh, against extremism. Is that true?
Witness: He is a good officer. I had no reason to oppose his proposals. I did not. I can’t tell about what he did now because there is media. I’ll tell you later.
Commission: Did you know that the Saharan gave arms training to their Muslim youth while conducting classes?
Witness: No. I do not know.
Commission: You’re Prime Minister. Don’t you get police reports about these?
Witness: I asked the same thing. I am the Prime Minister. But this does not tell me anything.